Dev Diaries SL

Getting Sri Lanka’s Communalism right is essential to Reconciliation

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Sri Lanka’s Communalism – pride of one’s ethnic/religious community – has been derided, but that carries costs for reconciliation

Image Courtesy: goplaces.lk

Sri Lanka is multi racial, multi religious, multi religious and multi ethnic. Or at least Wikipedia says so. And if you ask someone on the streets, it’s likely that they will agree. Sri Lanka IS a multi ethnic society, and it also a communalistic society. Our different communities work with a sense of pride and work for the unopposed existence and continuation of their own community. But what many forget, is that a multi ethnic society not only has many ethnicities, but they live together. That is where the problems start.

When talking about a multi ethnic culture, it’s evident that there will be differences between these ethnicities. These differences are alright, and are in fact, part of the diversity of humanity. And when someone feels proud about who they are, what their identity is, trying to break that pride down is a little cruel. I don’t see a Sinhalese man feeling proud about the old Anuradhapura Kings, as a bad thing. I don’t see a Tamil boy thinking that Tamil literature is really beautiful, as a bad thing. I don’t see an Islamic girl thinking the word of the Prophet Muhammad being the truth, as a bad thing.

Now communalism as a concept is important for a culture. It often serves as the only way for the continued preservation of that culture. In contrast to the “western liberal” model, we here in Sri Lanka value our traditions and all that our culture brings, a bit more than they seem to do. I’m not going to try and see which is actually better, because it simply does not matter.  To us, our way is better. To preserve our way of life, to ensure all our traditions, all our culture remains for the generations to come, that can’t be bad. Indeed, that is what gives us our identity in this massively populated world. That is what sets us apart from everyone else. As long as continuing our culture is not trying to destroy another, it is always alright. After all, we wouldn’t want it happening to us.

But today’s society doesn’t work along that line. I was looking through a few posts by Sinhale the other day, and I saw a remarkable irony. The post was criticising Muslims for insulting Buddhism and saying how Buddhism taught to respect all religions (and if some individuals did that they are rightly at fault). What was ironic, was this post itself was directly insulting Islam not just the faith, but with a few choice words and phrases being substituted. Now, look at this. You’re saying that what they’re doing is wrong, but it ends up alright when you do it?

So, when the Sinhalese man says that all the Aryachakravarti Kings of Jaffna were barbarians who should have been killed, then that is bad. When the Tamil boy says Sinhalese literature is perverted and sinful, then that is bad. When the Islamic girl says that the word of Gautama Buddha is evil, then that is bad. That is how communalism changes. Instead of being communities proud about their history, about their identity, they become communities of targeted destruction. Instead of being communities for themselves, they become communities against others. And that, is a problem.

A policy maker obviously has to do something about this. Whenever our governments have actually tried moving forward with reconciliation, they’ve hit a snag. They often end up seeming to be prioritising one community over the other. Now objectively speaking, this is rarely true. And objectively speaking, it shouldn’t be a problem. But society isn’t objective. Society is highly subjective. And if they seem to see even the slightest hint that they are being slighted, they are going to get angry. A properly transparent process is one way to go, telling all the people all that really happens. Ensuring proper participation of all communities in reconciliation in some level of engagement. Showing our communities that our governments care about each community individually AND all of them as a whole. This isn’t going to be easy. But it’s something that can be done. It’s something that has to be done.

Communalism is alright and in Sri Lanka it is probably even good, but the problem is when communalism devolves to a state where the very life of a person is deemed pointless, unnecessary, unvalued, because of his race or religion. To think that the entirety of a race is at fault for the actions of a few, to think that they are lower human beings for being born to certain parents, to think that someone is worthless simply because of the book they believe in, to think that someone’s life should not exist simply because you don’t like their community, that is not being communalistic. That is not being proud of your culture. That is not trying to preserve your culture. That is simply finding excuses to see someone as lower than you.  That is simply finding excuses to hate. That is simply finding excuses to be a horrible human being. And a culture that promotes hate, promotes being a bad human being isn’t exactly a culture you’d want around, is it?

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